Above The Fold: J Street vs AIPAC

Netanyahu has nothing to fear from J Street, and AIPAC’s place in Washington and Jerusalem is very secure.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, U.S., March 6, 2018 (photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, U.S., March 6, 2018
(photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
Comparing J Street to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is like comparing a 90-pound weakling to a sumo wrestler, like comparing the new kid on the block to the founding fathers, or like comparing a tuna on rye to a steak with all the trimmings. The comparisons are absurd, and yet, this 90-lb. weakling is trying to influence and set the agenda for what is arguably the most powerful of all Jewish/American organizations.
J Street has issued a threat to all Democratic US presidential candidates planning to attend and speak at the upcoming AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. This annual conference is one of the hottest, most sought-after tickets in the political worlds of Washington and Jerusalem. Attending the AIPAC conference, let alone being asked to address it, says that you are a player in the policy-making arena, a voice to be heard and reckoned with on American/Israeli issues.
And now, J Street is giving talking points to the candidates, telling them that if they speak at the AIPAC conference, they must decry and repudiate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will be attending, and his recent racist comments. And then comes the threat. If the candidates do not make a clear statement to that effect – which J Street admits will be unpopular given the setting and the audience – the candidate “will lose credibility.”
Losing credibility is code for being punished and held accountable by progressive voters in the primaries. J Street’s message can be found at jstreet.org. Here are two of the most salient points:
• “Candidates who choose to share that stage with Netanyahu must make it clear they do not share his values or approve of his policies.”
• “Those who attend without calling out Netanyahu’s bigoted rhetoric and enabling of right-wing extremism will lose credibility when deriding these horrific aspects of Trump’s politics.”
J Street then writes out a script for the Democratic candidates, giving them three important talking points that they all must punch while addressing AIPAC membership and conference attendees:
• “Condemn Netanyahu’s deal to bring the ultra-racist Otzma Yehudit Party into the next Knesset,
• “Speak out against the entrenchment of the occupation, which violates the rights of Palestinians and undermines hopes for a two-state solution,
• “Denounce racist rhetoric and incitement against Israel’s Arab minority.”
ALMOST 20,000 pro-Israel Americans attend the AIPAC conference. The energy alone during the sessions – especially during the one in which the prime minister is the esteemed speaker – is deeply impressive. And J Street, which draws about 3,000 attendees to its own conferences, thinks it can deliver ultimatums to Democratic presidential hopefuls, tell them what to say and have them challenge a sitting Israeli prime minister.
It’s absurd for J Street to think it can deliver a real threat to the candidates. Put simply, it has neither the clout nor the membership numbers to influence voters. It is a small, marginal organization with an inflated sense of importance that already punches way above its weight class. Despite a small spike in influence and media coverage during the Obama administration, today it has no practical tools that can reach enough people to discipline a US presidential candidate. Its annual budget is about $2 million; the AIPAC annual budget is about $100m.
J Street is taking advantage of the multiplier effect. It is riding the wave of recent comments made by three newbie congresswomen, women who have made derogatory and blatant antisemitic statements in public forums and in the mass media. In all fairness, J Street has condemned the language of one of the congresswomen, Ilhan Omar, but not without also insisting that the comments she made have substance. And it has become emboldened to issue its own ultimatum by the apparent reluctance of many establishment Democrats to condemn those comments and rein in those congresswomen. 
The inability of the US Congress to pass a referendum condemning antisemitism – and just antisemitism – is allowing J Street to feel cocky. In the end, the organization will make noise and it will get media coverage, but none of that will be enough to make a real impact. J Street can try to rock the boat, but it cannot rain on AIPAC’s parade and it cannot bring about change.
It has become popular to criticize Israel. J Street is harnessing the critique of others as a stepping stone to raise awareness of the organization and boost membership. The leftist group has a right to express its point of view. However, it is giving support and backing to antisemites and antisemitic thought and vitriol.
Israel is not afraid of criticism. Netanyahu has nothing to fear from J Street, and AIPAC’s place in Washington and Jerusalem is very secure. In the end, this is all an empty, attention-grabbing move that serves nothing more than to feed into anti-Israel, antisemitic sentiment. 
That’s unnecessary. And it’s a shame.